Archive for November, 2008


A Fresh Start!

Thanks be to God, this Sunday (the first Sunday of Advent) marks the beginning of a new Church year — a fresh start. Don’t we all need a fresh start every-so-often? Another chance to stop doing what we shouldn’t and to start doing what we should? And, God generously gives us one with each new dawn and each new year!

What could be a better way for a Catholic to begin this new year than by making a good Confession, wherein we acknowledge our sins before God with sorrow and receive the graces we need to amend our lives?! Somewhere along the line, many of us have forgotten the value of this sacrament or have neglected it. Most parishes have regular Confession times each week, usually on Saturday afternoon. Maybe tomorrow might be a good chance for us all to rediscover the great gift of forgiveness and grace, too.

At least one bishop has wisely decided to help his flock re-learn about Confession and Fr. Z. has a great discussion about it.

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3 Profundities (One)

Here’s the first installment of 3 of my brief random thoughts: “3 Profundities” (the idea is shamelessly stolen from Jennifer at Conversion Diary). I hope that you will see that the term “profundity” is tongue-in-cheek! 🙂

This is why it’s called “3 Profundities.”

1) As an only child, I was part of a family of 3. I loved to annoy my classmates by pointing-out that my family was just like the Holy Family, which implied a comparison of myself to Christ — charming, huh?! 🙂 Furthermore, there are 3 Persons in the Trinity (God). I took my fascination with 3s to such an extreme that in high school, I would often take the third parking space from the (conservative) right in the first row of student parking.

2) The term “profundities” is a favorite of mine from college, where I called my primitive little Web page “Profundity Place.” It was even less profound than this blog, so its disappearance years ago was no great loss to anyone! Few even noticed when it vanished, including me (until months later).

3) Three briefs are easier to write than seven, especially when the baby is waking from a nap, a toddler is tantruming over nothing for the 13th time this hour, and a bad odor is wafting in from the third diaper-wearer in the living room. I guess we all know where I’m going now… 🙂

One of the most beautiful things on this earth is when an atheist comes home into the Church. It’s even better if the convert is intelligent, funny and a very insightful writer; mindful of this, I would urge you to visit Conversion Diary, where Jennifer often inspires me and always makes me chuckle. (It’s also cool that she is the pregnant mommy of three little ones — due in March, just like me!)

Also, I’ve stolen a blogging idea from her: 7 Quick Takes. Only, in my case, being less of a blogger than she is, having been trained as a journalist and writer of news briefs, and having an unnatural fascination with threes, I’ll call my new feature 3 Profundities. The first installment follows.

We’ve probably all had enough of election analysis by now, but I think that I need to briefly wrap-up what I began here, as well as make a few broader points.

Like Dads and Moms all across America, Peter and I spent election night watching history-in-the-making on TV while taking care of our ordinary family responsibilities: feeding and playing with the kids, changing diapers, washing dishes, medicating headaches and nausea, getting the kids ready for bed, etc. Implicit in this is the lesson that the opportunities and challenges of ordinary life continue in obscurity while the cameras are focused elsewhere. Thanks be to God, the life quest for holiness and happiness can and does continue!

I know it’s an oxymoron, but Tuesday’s election results present us with a sad opportunity.

The Sad

As an unashamed pro-life/pro-family voter, of course I find the federal election results overwhelmingly disappointing.

We have put those whose worldview and priorities are deeply flawed in authority over all three branches of the government for at least the next two to four years (until the next congressional election and presidential election, respectively). This will directly lead to the loss of many thousand more innocent lives and will almost certainly involve attempted infringements on our most fundamental rights, particularly in the areas of free speech/freedom of religion and the intrinsic right of parents to raise their families in accord with their principles. This is very sad.

Furthermore, many state initiatives regarding the right to life were defeated (including a very weak parental notification initiative here in CA) and Washington state established a “right” to assisted suicide. More death.

Upon reading this well-reasoned and courageous election eve homily by Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, MO, I also must note that souls who consciously voted in favor of pro-death politicians and measures inflicted grave spiritual damage on themselves, as we do whenever we choose evil over good. Such souls probably would vehemently deny that this is what they have done, and they would probably react with great anger against the messenger rather than heeding the message, but it remains true. When we realize that we have sinned (as we all do many times each day), we must acknowledge the sin with sorrow before God and make a good Confession ASAP, before receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist again. The only serious sin that cannot be forgiven — that can send us to Hell — is the one we fail to repent of!

Among the few pieces of good election news was the passage of three marriage amendments (including one here in CA). This was unexpected (at least for me!) and endless court challenges — already begun — may yet turn these into defeats for the family.

I think it is entirely appropriate for us to be in mourning for the lives and souls tossed-aside and the vital principles trampled-on. Similarly, I find the jubilation, however moderated, of those who should know better (particularly Church leaders) to be misplaced and, frankly appalling, like dancing on someone’s grave. Diplomacy and respect are good; providing aid and comfort to the Culture of Death are not!

The Opportunity

Of course, our lives as individuals and as a society are always marked by setbacks. When we hit a setback, we’re told from our youth to shake it off and try again, and to repeat this as necessary.

In concrete terms, the setback presented by this election — which God allowed for His own perfect reasons — provides a plethora of spiritual and practical opportunities.

Spiritually, we have been given the opportunity, once again, to repent of our own sinfulness (magnified large in this election) and recommit ourselves to striving for holiness. This involves more than simply attending Mass/church services and “being nice”; it is a matter of really trying to love God and our neighbor each day, especially when it’s hard. Though it’s easy to forget, this is the most important thing!

As St. Teresa of Avila wisely wrote more than 400 years ago:

Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God. God alone suffices.

On a wider scale, we need to help our children learn the truths of the Faith despite the corrupt culture and to strive for holiness themselves. Then, we need to carry this message into our society, by our families’ example and particularly by praying and sacrificing often for an end to abortion and other threats to life, for the needs of pregnant mothers, the ill and the needy, for the conversion of abortionists and anti-life religious leaders and politicians, and for those who stand for life at great cost. We need to be mindful that we are in a spiritual war: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places!” (Ephesians 6:12).

Practically, we have to expand and publicize our efforts already well-underway, among them: support our local crisis pregnancy centers, ensure that palliative care is available to the sick, and care for those in need in our families and area.

Furthermore, on the political front, we need to vigorously defend against anti-life legislation! Thankfully, Washington’s notorious gridlock and the press of real-world crises may well keep some of the ugliest dreams of President-elect Obama and friends from coming true. But, we will still need to be vigilant in urging our legislators to block any attempts to weaken protections for life and family, chief among them the misnamed “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA) that would virtually eliminate choices other than abortion in one fell swoop. And, if some helpful life-/family-affirming legislation should be proposed, of course we should support it just as forcefully!

May God bless us and our nation in this effort!

UPDATED 11/07/08

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I believe we have reached the final post of my personal election blogging marathon. 🙂 Next time, I don’t plan to wait six months between blog posts and then post a lot at once. I would love it if you would stick with me by subscribing in your blog reader! I always welcome feedback, either on the blog or at weareacatholicfamily@live.com.

A great resource in our spiritual life, especially for those of us attracted to the spirituality of St. Benedict (the founder of Western monasticism), is:

THE JUBILEE MEDAL OF ST. BENEDICT

(This is an excerpt from Rev. Randall Paine, ORC, His Time Is Short: The Devil and his Agenda, [St. Paul, MN: The Leaflet Missal Company, 1989] pp.89-91. This EWTN link also provides a prayer to St. Benedict and other specific uses of the medal.)

This medal has long been regarded as especially efficacious in protecting its wearers against demonic attacks, and securing a number of special graces. Let us take a closer look at the inscriptions on its two sides. On the front of the medal we find St. Benedict holding a Cross in one hand, and the Rule of St. Benedict in the other. At his sides are the words “Crux S. Patris Benedicti” (“The Cross of the Holy Father Benedict”), and below his feet: “Ex S M Casino MDCCCLXXX” (“From the holy mount of Casino, 1880”). On that date, Monte Cassino was given the exclusive right to produce this medal, and special Jubilee indulgences were added. Still on this front side of the medal we find inscribed in a circle the words: “Ejus in obitu nostro presentia muniamur” (“May his presence protect us in our hour of death”).

The reverse side of the medal is where the real exorcistic force reveals itself. In the center is a Cross. The Cross, which St. Benedict so loved and often used as a powerful exorcism, is the sign before which even Dracula shrinked. The vertical beam of the Cross bears the letters “C.S.S.M.L.”, and the horizontal beam, the letters “N.D.S.M.D.” These are the first letters of the words: “CRUX SACRA SIT MIHI LUX” (“May the Holy Cross be a light unto me”), “NON DRACO SIT MIHI DUX” (“And may the Dragon never be my guide”). The four large letters at the corners of the Cross, “C S P B”, stand for “CRUX SANCTI PATRIS BENEDICTI” (“The Cross of the Holy Father Benedict”) … In addition to the “Pax” (“peace”) motto at the top, we find the following letters in a circle around the margin of this side: “V.R.S.N.S.M.V.” “S.M.Q.L.I.V.B.” … “VADE RETRO SATANA; NUNQUAM SUADE MIHI VANA” (“Get behind me, Satan; Never suggest vain thoughts to me”). “SUNT MALA QUAE LIBAS” (“The cup you offer is evil”). “IPSE VENENA BIBAS!” (“Drink the poison yourself!”).

This richly indulgenced medal can be worn around the neck, or be attached to one’s Rosary, or simply kept in a pocket or purse. The pious intention of wearing such an object, together with the Church’s powerful blessing and intercessory power, make it into an unspoken prayer which has been shown to be of great help in maintaining holy purity, bringing about conversions, protecting against inclement weather and contagious disease.

Many beautiful crucifixes, to be worn or hung, are embedded with this powerful medal. One site that sells them (and other Catholic goods) at a discount is GetFED at www.getfed.com. A priest would be glad to bless the medal for you. You may want to attach it to your sacrifice beads or scapular, or in a way that you always have it.

UPDATED 9/9/10 to fix a broken link and add some new ones, and to reflect current prices.

Here is one of the greatest treasures of the Church, one that I lived most of my life knowing nothing of:

THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS

The site linked above is a good overview of LOTH.

Here’s my summary: The Liturgy of the Hours, which is sometimes called the “Divine Office” or “Breviary,” is — after the Holy Mass — the greatest prayer of the Church. It is prayed by priests, religious, and some lay people. The Church encourages us all to pray this beautiful prayer, as a sign of unity and to enrich our daily prayer life with the treasure of centuries of Christians, most notably early monastics like St. Benedict. One may even pray constantly by organizing her day around the hours.

The Liturgy of the Hours consists of seven “offices,” generally prayed every three hours: The Office of Readings (usually before Morning Prayer), Morning Prayer (at 6), Midmorning Prayer (at 9), Midday Prayer (at noon), Midafternoon Prayer (at 3), Evening Prayer (at 6), and Night Prayer (at 9). The “major” offices are generally held to be Morning and Evening Prayer, but one can benefit from praying whatever offices suit her schedule. Midmorning, Midday and Midafternoon Prayer are collectively called Daytime Prayer, and some people simply pray one of these offices. In general, each hour consists of a hymn, three psalms/canticles with antiphons, short New Testament readings, and other prayers. The Office of Readings consists of the hymn and psalms, along with a reading from the Scriptures and one from the writings of the early Church Fathers, saints, Vatican II, etc.

There is a great free Website (still under development) that offers the Offices as text and podcasts! An older favorite with excerpts from the LOTH (though in a different translation than the approved set) is at www.universalis.com.

There are three main publications of the LOTH: the complete four-volume set — used one volume at a time (at about $145), Christian Prayer — abbreviated prayers, most notably lacking the Office of Readings ($30), and Shorter Christian Prayer — with the four-week Psalter and Morning and Evening prayer ($12). The four-volume set comes with several useful reference cards and the publisher also sells a very helpful annual guide inexpensively.

For further information, visit:

Finally, if you would like an inexpensive, step-by-step guide to praying this beautiful prayer, I’ve found The Divine Office for Dodos useful.

[N.B. Researching, acquiring and learning to pray different versions of the Divine Office has become a hobby of mine, so I plan a future post to discuss the breviary associated with the Extraordinary Form, the traditional Benedictine breviary, etc.]

This post is a continuation of the previous post, “Plan of Life/Wheat: EWTN.”

THE IMPORTANCE OF MEDITATION

In his splendid book of detailed meditations on the entirety of all four Gospels, The Better Part, Fr. John Bartunek points-up the importance of meditation in our daily lives. He defines meditation as “lifting the heart and mind to God through focused reflection on some truth of God’s revelation. It involves the intellect, the imagination, the memory, the emotions — the whole person” (p. 21). When we use ready-made meditation books, though, we “easily slip into the spiritual reading mode: instead of using the points of reflection as springboards for focused personal reflection, attentive listening to the Holy Spirit, and intimate heart-to-heart conversation with Christ, [we] simply read, understand, agree, and move on … yet, unless you learn to go deeper, to personalize your prayer more, you will limit your growth in virtue” (p.24).

A SIMPLE METHOD OF MEDITATION

He describes a very simple and effective four-part method of meditation, summarized as:

  • concentrate (Recall that God is present, seeing you and listening to you, and that He has something to say to you that you need and want to hear. Ask for whatever grace you need most.)
  • consider (Read the text slowly and calmly until something strikes you; if you wish, perhaps read it again or read a commentary. If it’s a Scripture, perhaps place yourself in the story to listen to God’s word to you. If it’s a commentary, perhaps ask what the words say about the Church, or you and your resolutions, or your responsibilities as a Catholic/spouse/parent/worker.)
  • converse (Savor what God is telling you and talk to Him in your own words, perhaps of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, or supplication [ACTS]. If you wish, when you response quiets, go back to the text for more.)
  • commit (Make a specific resolution. Thank Christ for your meditation. Jot any insights down in your journal [perhaps noting the text you read]. Make a concluding prayer, perhaps an Our Father/Hail Mary/Glory Be.)

Have you found that the daily quest for holiness called for in our Faith from the time of our Baptism is inextricably linked to our human search for happiness? Are you therefore searching for a practical way to live holy Faith in daily life — to be happy here and in Heaven?

Or do you perhaps have an interest in/attraction to certain devotions (Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Fatima, etc.) or spiritualities (Benedictine, Franciscan, Dominican, Ignatian, etc.), but find yourself overwhelmed by the possibilities? Maybe this post may be of use to you.

As I began my professional life after college, I gradually realized that I had to fan the spark of my love of the Faith into a fire of living the Faith in daily life. But, I soon discovered that one cannot dedicate herself to even a fraction of the absolute plethora of useful devotions and spiritual practices that the Church has gifted us with in the last 2,000 years. So, I set about selecting what would be most helpful for my spiritual life and growth in holiness. It’s still a matter of trial and error, but I have a mostly workable Plan of Life (a daily/regular spiritual regimen), which I will likely post on at length. It would help to have a wise spiritual director (such as a gifted priest or sister) to guide me, but like many others, I have not yet found one who is available. So, I pray and search.

Enter, again, our reliable guide, Fr. John McCloskey, this time providing us with:

THE SEVEN DAILY HABITS OF HOLY APOSTOLIC PEOPLE

Fr. McCloskey notes that integrating these habits into one’s life is a gradual process that may require some modifications, but at the same time a priority overriding lesser things/timewasters. He estimates that the habits as he describes them will take about an hour-and-a-half per day, but will yield unexpected benefits.

  • morning offering (Rise promptly to offer your day to God, in your own words or with a formula.)
  • daily Mass (If you cannot attend daily Mass, perhaps consider spending some time before the Blessed Sacrament or at home prayerfully reading the Mass readings and praying a spiritual communion (asking to receive Our Lord spiritually since you cannot receive His Body and Blood at Mass). The Mass readings, in text or in audio with a homily, can be found at EWTN.
  • Angelus/Regina Coeli (at midday; the former for all seasons but Easter, the latter for Easter)
  • examination of conscience (Before bed: give thanks to God; ask His grace to know your sins; examine your thoughts, words and deeds in each part of your day, especially in light of the previous day’s resolutions; pray an act of contrition; make specific resolutions to avoid these sins in the coming day; and pray an Our Father. This is a summary of the method of St. Ignatius.)

I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend here the greatest work of one of the greatest spiritual directors who ever lived, the Gentle Saint, bishop St. Francis de Sales. His Introduction to the Devout Life is very readable and practical, several hundred years after his death.

Finally, in creating this post, I am greatly indebted to one of the foremost sites on the Web and TV for authentic Catholic spirituality, which I highly recommend: Mother Angelica’s EWTN. Among the exhaustive resources there, you will find schedules, live feeds, and videos/podcasts of their excellent programming, including daily Mass and numerous spiritual shows. You will also find a very large library of texts, audio and video, and a religious catalog.

UPDATED 11/06/08

Way back in May, when I first decided to write this post, I apparently had it in mind to make book recommendations. I now find this rather amusing, so I’m retooling my original idea.

You see, I’m one of Those People. You might know one of us: we love to read and learn, so we start many books on many different topics, all at once. For a while, we read a few pages in each book every single day, then less frequently, and then as other books catch our eye and we get busy, we forget some of the first books entirely! The result, predictably, is two-fold: no book gets even half-read and there is at least one high pile of partially-read books cluttering our house at any given time!

So, rather than give some “partial-book” recommendations at this time, I’m going to link to a better source and recommend that we all bite-off no more than we can chew at once!

A very sharp and reliable priest, Fr. John McCloskey, has written “A Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan.” Below, I’ve reproduced some info on it that I wrote for a brochure some time ago. Perhaps, as I make my way through my ever-growing library, I will actually post some recommendations of my own.

A CATHOLIC LIFETIME READING PLAN
(A BRIEF SELECTION)

Fr. McCloskey’s complete list can be found at:
www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/readingplan.html

Catechism of the Catholic Church – Catholicism Explained/Theology
Boylan – Tremendous Lover – Spiritual Reading
Caussaude – Abandonment to Divine Providence – Spiritual Reading
de Sales – Introduction to Devout Life – Spiritual Reading
Escriva – Way, Furrow, Forge – Spiritual Reading
Guardini – The Lord
Lewis – Mere Christianity – Spiritual Classics
Liguori – 12 Steps to Holiness and Salvation – Spiritual Reading
Lovasik – The Hidden Power of Kindness – Spiritual Reading
O’Connor – Flannery O’Connor: Complete Stories – Literary Classics
Phillipe – Interior Freedom – Spiritual Reading
Scupoli – Spiritual Combat – Spiritual Reading
Sertillanges – Intellectual Life – Misc

*****
Many of these books can be found new and at a steep discount at www.amazon.com, or sometimes even new or used at www.ebay.com. It’s a great idea to buy what you can so that you can loan or refer to the books later. The local library system may also have some of them.

Please note that www.catholicity.com/mccloskey has
several other excellent articles by Fr. McCloskey, which I
recommend.

Wheat: Catholic Culture

There are many Web sites out there that call themselves “Catholic.” Sadly, even for the seasoned Catholic, it can sometimes be hard to determine if a site really contains the truths of the Faith. That’s why I’m glad to use and highly recommend Catholic Culture. Among many other services, this site reviews many other “Catholic” sites for fidelity, resources, and usability.

Among other helpful features, the site provides, all for free:

  • detailed and useful information on the current day/saint in the Church calendar, with links
  • helpful news and commentary from Catholic World News
  • commentary on Catholic culture, as the site name implies
  • an extensive Church library
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